The Popular Front of India (PFI), declared an “unlawful association” under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) by the Centre, will now have the option to present its case before a tribunal that must confirm the government notification for the ban to continue.
What is a UAPA tribunal?
The UAPA provides for a tribunal under a High Court judge to be constituted by the government for its bans to have long-term legal sanctity.
Orders to declare an organisation as “unlawful” are issued by the Centre under Section 3 of the UAPA. The provision says that “no such notification shall have effect until the tribunal has, by an order made under Section 4, confirmed the declaration made therein and the order is published in the Official Gazette”.
Thus, a government order would not come into effect until the tribunal has confirmed it. However, in exceptional circumstances, the notification can come into effect immediately once the reasons for it are recording in writing. The tribunal can endorse or reject it.
According to Section 4 of the UAPA, after the Centre declares an organisation “unlawful”, its notification must reach the tribunal within 30 days to adjudicate “whether or not there is sufficient cause” for the move.
After this, the tribunal calls upon the association, by notice in writing, to show cause within 30 days why it should not be declared unlawful. Once this is done, the tribunal holds an inquiry and decides the matter within six months.
Constitution of the tribunal
The tribunal consists of only one person, who has to be a High Court judge. If a vacancy (other than a temporary absence) occurs in the Tribunal, the Centre appoints another judge and the proceedings continue from the stage at which the vacancy is filled.
The Centre is to provide to the tribunal such staff as necessary for the discharge of its functions. All expenses incurred for a tribunal are borne out of the Consolidated Fund of India.
The tribunal has power to regulate its own procedure, including the place at which it holds its sittings. Thus, it can hold hearings in different states for allegations pertaining to those states.
To make inquiries, the tribunal has the same powers as vested in a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. These can be exercised in summoning a witness and examining him on oath; production of any document or other material object producible as evidence; the reception of evidence on affidavits; the requisitioning of any public record from any court or office; and the issuing of any commission for the examination of witnesses.
All proceeding before the Tribunal are deemed to be judicial proceedings.
Government notifications, with a few exceptions as in the case of SIMI, have largely been confirmed by the tribunals. In case of SIMI, a tribunal had briefly lifted the ban on it in 2008. Almost all extensions of bans too, be it against Zakir Naik, Sikhs for Justice, or the JKLF, have been confirmed.
Proceedings of the tribunal have been criticised for being somewhat opaque. The UAPA permits public non-disclosure of information on bans given the sensitivity involved. It has been said that often, the government gives evidence in sealed cover, leaving no opportunity for an organisation to defend itself.